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May 2009 Staff Book Reviews

Just so you know logoWith tax season over perhaps you'll find yourself with a little extra leisure time. Why not stop by your hometown library and try one of these books reviewed by the staff members of the Pioneer Library System?

This month we are featuring staff reviews for Adults and Teens - they are comprised of award winners, satirical wit and inspirational tales. Why not read more and see what your hometown library recommends. When you are done be sure to stop in the catalog and write up your review. Maybe you'll have a different perspective!

book jacket for The Hope ChestAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
five stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Reviewer: Julie Kreft, Moore Public Library

Acclaimed novelist, Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible, enters into non-fiction territory with a part memoir, part journalistic investigation.  This book tells the story of how one family was changed by a year of deliberately eating only home-grown food, and food produced in the area where they live.  Barbara Kingsolver wrote the central narrative, and there are side-bars of information that dig deeper into various aspects of food-production, plus nutritional information, meal plans, and recipes.

At the book's beginning, the family has moved from their home in Tucson to rural Virginia, determined to live for an entire year on locally grown produce.  The Kingsolver's  are consummate gardeners and spend the summer "putting food by", canning their harvests and jarring their tomatoes.  With a few exceptions, their experiment is both successful and eye-opening.  From roots to buds to fruits, the focus is on eating fresh food, in the growing, buying, and cooking stages of our daily lives.  It is truly a vision of how we might eat for health, flavor, and enjoyment.

Kingsolver supplements the personal narrative with details, observations, and facts about America;s growing dependence on imported and industrial foods.  This is a great read for those concerned with what to eat and why,and for those green-leaning fans concerned with global warming.  Kingsolver has also taken note on America's fast food "eating disorder".  the writing is smart and entertaining.  the narrative is substantive, yet disarming, earnest, and funny.  It reads like fiction with beautiful prose. the end result is a book that is original and thought provoking on a topic that seams particularly relevant today.

book jacket for The Hope ChestThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
four stars
Genre: Teen Sequoyah Fiction
Reviewer: Jamie Hale, Norman Public Library

High school student Clay Henson returns from school one day to find a mysterious package waiting for him.  The package contains cassette tapes and when Clay pops one into a tape player and pushes play he is shocked by what he hears.  It is the voice of his classmate and crush, Hannah Baker who recently committed suicide.  On the tapes, Hannah informs the listener that there were thirteen reasons why she did it and if they are listening, they are on of the reasons.  She instructs the listener that they must listen to the tapes and then pass them on to the next person.  Clay is horrified by at the same time intrigued.  He questions what part he could have played to drive Hannah to suicide.  The story takes place in the span of one night as Clay wanders all over town to visit the locations Hannah talks about in her tapes.

This debut novel is a 2010 Sequoyah Book Award Nominee ( It is told in an interesting way as the text alternates between Hannah's voice (written in italics) and Clay's reactions to her words.  This is a compelling story about a difficult subject and shows how our actions, no matter how insignificant they might seem, can affect someone.  The characters are relatable, although there are a few stereotypes but in my opinion they do not detract from the book.  This poignant story really resonated with me and I found myself unable to put it down as I waited for questions to get answered.  I look forward to more from this author.

book jacket for The Hope ChestLove Mercy by Earlene Fowler
five stars
Genre: Adult Fiction
Reviewer: Beth Lyle, Tecumseh Public Library

Love Mercy Johnson, a strong and resilient woman with a gift for thought-provoking photography,is grieving the recent loss of her beloved husband to cancer.  Nevertheless, Love helps her aging in-laws with the family ranch, is a part owner of a small town cafe, and writes a photo essay column for a local magazine. 

Love hasn't seen her three granddaughters in fourteen years due to an estrangement with her daughter-in-law after the death of her only son.  So, she receives quite a shock when Loretta Lynn "Rett" Johnson, her now eighteen year old granddaughter appears at the cafe with a load of grief, resentment, and a stolen $25,000 banjo appropriated from the scoundrel who broke her heart.

The difficulty of letting go of past hurts, and a family crisis are issues that both women confront, but a solid relationship grows as Love and Rett face their struggle together, and offer one another the gift of understanding.

Love Mercy is full of wonderful characters that are as flawed, funny, and endearing as our own next-door neighbors and family.  I didn't want to see the book end, and am delighted that the author is planning a series of Love Mercy novels.


book jacket for The Hope ChestWhy We Suck by Denis Leary
four stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Reviewer: Crystal Inman, Shawnee Public Library

Why We Suck by "Dr." Denis Leary is not for the faint of heart.  But if you like your commentary with teeth so sharp they draw blood, then this book's for you.  Mr. Leary is a one-man mission to better us all with the use of sarcasm and real-life stories from his childhood.  Both are priceless.  While on would think that several subjects listed in the book are simply common sense, you can't argue with the fact that some people are simply not equipped with even that.  So buckle up!  Take the book with a grain of salt, or a who.e shaker as the case may be.  But beneath the snide remarks are real issues that Leary brings to the light of day with humor and real emotion.

book jacket for The Hope ChestDeadline by Chris Crutcher
five stars
Genre: Teen Fiction
Reviewer: Rebecca Spence, Norman Public Library

Ben Wolf is told he has a terminal disease at the beginning of his senior year.  So 18 year old Ben Wolf makes the biggest decision of his life:  fill an entire lifetime's worth of "living" into a single year, the only year he's got.  Ben will get the hot girl, join the football team and do many other typical tings high school boys dream about.  He'll also face a multitude of hard issues and difficult choices.  Cancer, teen pregnancy, censorship, racism, bipolar disorders, alcoholism, questioning the education system, homosexuality, religion and of course, death are all woven into the journey  Ben Wolf takes.  What is amazing about Crutcher's writing is that none of these issues bog down the story.  Ben's relationships with his friends, family and teachers are realistically flawed making for an interesting read.  The story is about how Ben perceives and questions everything around him.  Having only one year of life and a "nothing to lose" attitude gives Ben a freedom in his approach to the world.  Deadline is honest and deep and, at times, dark, but Ben's sarcastic and self-deprecating humor is also extremely funny.  As cliched as it sounds, this really is one of those stories that "has it all".

book jacket for The Hope ChestSashenka by Simon Montfiore
five stars
Genre: Adult Fiction
Reviewer: Susan Gregory, Pioneer Library System Development Office

What would you do if, as the mother of two adored children, you knew that your own death was imminent at the hands of monsters and the only reality left to y our control was the manner of your children's escape?  How would it feel to know that your own life, once taken for granted as safe and protected, would soon be wrenched from you by whispers and gossip from former friends in the ears of the wrong tyrant?  Would you feel shame, knowing that a foolish yet passionate two-week love affair would bring your entire family to ruin?  Or would you thank the gods for a time, however brief, in which you knew real love?  These are some of the questions that British novelist Simon Montefiore raises in Sashenka, a brilliantly written epic tale that takes the reader from St. Petersburg of 1916 through the dark years of Stalin's Terror to contemporary Russia.

Sashenka is the spoiled and beautiful daughter of a wealthy Jewish banker and his opium-addicted wife who rejects her life of riches to become a Bolshevik spy at the tender age of sixteen.  She rises to prominence as a well-known, committed Communist over the years and marries a man who is a member of Stalin's inner circle.  Her chance encounter with a charming novelist awakens a passion that she never knew she was capable of.  Almost immediately, she finds her life in a rushing downward spiral that carries not only her husband and uncle to their painful deaths but forces her to trust the lives of her two children to her oldest Party colleague as she is whisked to prison for what will be a final confrontation with evil.

Katinka is a young, pretty and gifted historian who is hired by expatriate Russians in contemporary London to track down a lost family history.  How she comes to know of Sashenka's story and the impact that her findings will have on her own life bring this fascinating story to a moving finale.  This novel was voted a "Top Five Summer Read of 2008" in England and listed as "one of the Hottest Books this Summer" by the UK's The Independent/  The story is compelling, the writing is superb and the emotions that the reader feels while reading the book are powerful.  It is impossible to comprehend the terror, paranoia and powerlessness of the common man during Stalin's long reign.  Many, many people in contemporary Russia are still trying to piece together their own fractured family histories and track down their own "lost children" from this brutal period in which Stalin and his psychopathic henchmen wreaked havoc.  There is always hope and sometimes, hope is rewarded.  Sashenka brings this realization home to the reader.

The Pastor's Wife by Diane Fanning
five stars
Genre: Adult Nonfiction
Reviewer: Kim Deeds, Tecumseh Public Library

Mary Winkler shot her husband in the back while he was sleeping.  Why?  Did she do it on purpose?  Did the gun accidentally go off?  Throughout the investigation, Mary Winkler sought to protect her husband's legacy.  Mary Winkler wanted the best for her children.

Diane Fanning does an excellent job documenting the shooting of pastor Matthew Winkler by his wife, Mary Winkler.  The author presents factual information and even gives the history of events and places relating to the events and places of the story.  At the end of the book, the author shares her perspective on what happened.

Any abused woman will want to read this book.  One does not need to live in the environment that Mary Winkler lived in.  The author urges abused women to seek help.

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